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Are we there yet?

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Talk bearing the same provocative title took place on the 19th of October as the first of the online events series held by the Oxford Archaeological Society this academic year. From a position of Africanist, Professor Shadreck Chirikure presented his view on the current relationship between archaeology, local communities and their part on knowledge production in the context of Africa as post-colony.

Most archaeologists are concerned with the things that are of little importance for indigenous communities, and archaeology, therefore, seems to be irrelevant to them. This mutual misunderstanding gave rise to the question: how might we connect the past to the present? Professor Chirikure presented two villages from southern Africa in which the presence of vast archaeological finds such as tools and craft equipment were used to improve the lives of locals.

In the first case, people were travelling 10 km to access the closest grinding mill, but through excavation, season-specific strategies of the past were retrieved and put again into use. However, the second village could not fully capitalize on its favourable position for tourism (located near the national park). Things changed when archaeological remains of iron from the village were analysed at the University of Cape Town and enlightened the process of iron smelting. This, in turn, led to the re-enactment of tradition by the community, and its execution in the presence of tourists is increasing the popularity of the village.

On the contrary, Professor Chirikure stressed out how the ethnographically widely used concept “rainmaking” is an inappropriate label, the true meaning of which was lost in translation. In his view, it is mainly caused by insufficient cooperation between authors publishing on African topics and natives. Additionally, both aforementioned examples are still more of a rarity than common practice in Africa. Because of that, more radical steps are necessary, in the form of community engagement and connection talks, to reach the rhetorical “there” from the opening question.

-Jakub Senesi


Series of talks organised by OAS will also be held this term, starting with a presentation titled "Early colonisation of Americas" on the first of February. Details can be found on our website or Facebook page.

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